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Intl Rolex Regatta – 1st Caribbean Regatta to Offer Exclusive Classes for IRC

The 35th annual International Rolex took on a new twist this year. While yachts with an IRC rating have been welcomed and scored dually with CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association)-rated boats in past years, this year IRC yachts were given a class – or classes, as it turned out – of their own.

Is this good for Caribbean sailing? Bad? Regatta officials and organizers and sailors weigh in:

Luiz Kahl, owner of Detroit, Michigan-based Yacht Scoring and new US-IRC executive director, says, “I’ve raced Rolex for a number of years, and over those years, I’ve seen the number of big boats dwindle. I believe there were less than six last year. This year there were 12 – all racing IRC.”

What offering IRC means, says David Brennan, the Florida-based principal race officer who ran all the races except for the IC24 class, “Offering IRC presents the opportunity to draw boats from outside the area or region, principally from the U.S. and Europe, that normally don’t come here. They’re attracted by the IRC rule, they sail under it in their own country and are comfortable with it because it puts them on a level platform with their competitors.”

Sam Fleet, from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, is one of the competitors who came to the IRR for the first time because of the IRC offering. Fleet, racing his Swan 601, Aquarius, says, "We took delivery of the boat last November.  It was the old Artemis, geared for Mediterranean sailing in eight knots. But now it’s a go-fast boat since we added a bowsprit and an asymmetrical spinnaker for IRC racing. So far I’m really happy. The courses are beautiful and I love going around the islands.”

The UK’s John Munns, who raced as navigator and skipper aboard Richard Matthews’ Humphreys 42, Oystercatcher XXVI, agrees and adds, “In the past, the only option was to sail under the CSA, or the ‘Caribbean Rule’. Richard, with his previous Oystercatchers, has sailed here many times under CSA, but this boat was purpose-built for IRC. We have won several notable events in the UK in the year since the boat was launched, but we came here for more competition. We also have a CSA rating, but IRC is a better rating for us."

Munns adds with a laugh, "But technically we’re not in a position to argue, because we just won (in CSA racing) at the Heineken Regatta."

St. Thomas native, America’s Cup skipper and Olympic silver medalist, Peter Holmberg, drove one of ONDECK Ocean Racing’s Farr 40s, ONDECK Bandit, in one of the IRC classes. “I think it’s good that Rolex and the St. Thomas Yacht Club have been open to including a handicap rule that is growing around the world. But we need to be careful not to exclude local boats and those visiting from around the Caribbean. There needs to be the right balance.”

John Sweeney, IRR co-director along with Bill Canfield, does see this balance as achievable. “I think we’ll see IRC participation grow and there’s certainly plenty of room for CSA competitors and we welcome both.”

The IRC and CSA rules are similar from a technical standpoint, i.e. they both produce single Time on Time correction factors for handicaps, they are both secret rules meaning there is no public access to the rating formulas, and they both require objective (measured) and subjective (estimated) data. 

Bob Phillips, chairman of the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival and an avid racer himself, says, “CSA is the oldest continuously used handicap rule in the world, so it’s certainly stood the test of time. In the BVI, we’ve dual measured for IRC for the past three years, and dual scores for IMS before that. We will always offer duel scoring for any handicap.”

While mainly bigger boats have embraced the IRC rule, Kahl says, “Any boat can get an IRC rating certificate. We have Melges 24s with IRC ratings.”

One of the stumbling blocks to obtaining an IRC rating is that a full rating requires the boat to be weighed. The BVI’s Christopher Lloyd did this, weighed his Beneteau 44, Three Harkoms, in a Tortola yard the day before Rolex. Traditionally having sailed under CSA, Lloyd opted for IRC in this year’s IRR.

“We wanted to upgrade ourselves and chose to race IRC,” Lloyd says. “We also want to take the boat up and race in Chicago this summer and need an IRC rating to race there.”

On the horizon, there may be options for more Caribbean boats to obtain an IRC rating as well as CSA.

CSA measurer, Tony Sanpere, says, “I just bought a J/36 and will be taking a course to become a certified IRC measurer in Newport when I go to pick the boat up in July.”

Sanpere adds, “There is certainly room for two rules in the Caribbean. The benefit of the IRC rating allows you to travel and race anywhere in the world without having to be measured or weighed for another rating certificate.”

For 2008 Rolex results, see www.rolexcupregatta.com.

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